You’ve likely heard about the “sunshine vitamin,” better known as vitamin D. Vitamin D’s importance cannot be overstated. Up to 50% of The U.S. population may be affected by vitamin D insufficiency.1
How you manage your vitamin D intake, whether through supplementation or sun exposure, can affect your overall health. Read on to learn more about the importance of Vitamin D.
Bone Health: What Is Vitamin D And Why Is It Beneficial To Take It With Calcium And Magnesium?
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin in the human body. Its primary functions are to absorb calcium, and aid in bone development. It is also fat-soluble. This means that you need to eat foods with fat in them in order to absorb it.2
Your body can obtain vitamin D in three ways: from sunlight, through food, and via supplementation.3 In fact, more than 90% of our body’s vitamin D is made as a result of contact with sunlight. A mere 10% comes from the foods that we eat.4
How Is Vitamin D Made?
Vitamin D is produced in the body as a reaction between the skin and the ultraviolet rays in sunlight. Regardless of how it is generated or obtained, it is biologically inert and must be activated via hydroxylation in two places in order to do its job. These activations occur in the liver and the kidney.5
Benefits Of Calcium And Magnesium
Vitamin D works in conjunction with calcium and magnesium to affect changes in the body. Magnesium assists in converting vitamin D to its active form in the body. This vitamin D then contributes to calcium absorption from the food that you eat. The relationship between vitamin D and calcium absorption is an important function that influences the growth and maintenance of bones.6
On the other hand, taking excess vitamin D (in amounts greater than 250µg) may cause the body to absorb too much calcium. This can lead to a buildup of calcium in the bones, arteries, and soft tissues.7
Vitamin D Deficiency: Rickets, Cystic Fibrosis, And More
The amount of vitamin D required each day is about 20µg. Low levels of vitamin D in the body can lead to some pretty serious health issues. If you have any concerns about your vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor.
Potential Vitamin D Deficiency Factors
There are a number of factors that might affect vitamin D status and deficiency:
- Age: The skin of older people becomes less efficient at making vitamin D.
- Skin Color: Darker skin does not make vitamin D as easily as fair-colored skin. Therefore, more vitamin D may be required to avoid a deficiency.
- Location: Living in northern states, above the 37th latitude, may make you more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency because there is much less sun during the winter months.8
- Limited Mobility: People who do not – or cannot – venture outside do not benefit from the sun as a source of vitamin D.9
The Sunshine Vitamin: Can Sun Exposure Help To Support Vitamin D Levels In Your Body?
So much of our vitamin D comes from sun exposure. How do you ensure that you are getting your share in the sun?
- Spend short amounts of time with your forearms, hands, or lower legs uncovered.
- Venture outside between 11AM and 3PM.
Note that there is no specific amount of time required to get enough sunlight to produce a beneficial vitamin D level. Additionally, sitting inside by a sunny window does not help, because the UVB rays cannot penetrate the window glass. You need to be outside.10 But remember, too much sun can lead to sunburn, premature aging of the skin, and other skin conditions.11 Take the necessary precautions to avoid putting your skin at risk.
The Importance Of Good Vitamin D Status For Overall Health And Well-Being: How To Get More Vitamin D
Exposure to sunlight is not the only way to get vitamin D. Eating the right foods can help you avoid a deficiency too. Unfortunately, vitamin D is only present in certain foods. The highest food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish like canned salmon and smoked whitefish.12 However, besides oily fish, there are plenty of high-quality plant sources as well.
Mushrooms are a particularly potent source of this vitamin. In fact, a cup of some of the most common varieties contains the highest daily recommended values:
- Crimini mushrooms provide 139% of the daily recommended value (DV).
- Portabella mushrooms provide 122% DV.
- Maitakes provide 98% DV.
- White button mushrooms provide 92% DV.13
Fortified Plant Foods
Not quite on par with mushrooms, but a good source nonetheless, is soy milk. These are often fortified with vitamin D. A 16-oz glass contains 29% DV, respectively.14,15
As long as they are fortified, breakfast cereals and orange juice may also contain reasonable amounts of vitamin D (greater than 10% DV).16,17 Just be sure to watch for added sugar in these. Unfortunately, fresh and unfortified fruits and vegetables contain very little vitamin D.18
Vitamin D Supplementation: Should You Be Taking A Dietary Supplement That Contains Vitamin D?
When possible, getting enough vitamin D through sunlight is the best way to go. The reason is that vitamin D produced in the skin may last at least twice as long in the body as vitamin D from food.19 However, that is not always possible.
One of the most popular ways to get enough vitamin D is through vitamin D supplementation. There are two forms of vitamin D available: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Generally, both forms have identical effects. At high doses, vitamin D2 is less potent than vitamin D3.20,21,22
Vitamin D is very important for health and well-being. For a variety of reasons, vitamin D supplementation is also a necessity for many people. However, it can also be harmful to your health if you take too much, especially with dietary supplements. As with any supplement, always consult your doctor before making a decision about taking this vitamin.